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Mount Baker Experience - Molly Baker

Coming home

A pro skier longs for her favorites

By Molly Baker

Pro skiers don’t get health benefits or retirement packages. They get travel packages. It was always one of the opportunities of the job I desired the most – a cure for my wanderlust. Then I moved to Mt. Baker. Year after year, with Canada, South America, New Zealand and many more stops on my schedule, I’ve discovered that not many places in the world compare. From the snow conditions at Baker to the quirky people of Glacier to the coffee shops of Bellingham, the Mt. Baker region is the kind of place that will tame even the most ardent of ski-loving travelers. Here’s why.

MT. BAKER SNOWFALL. World record snowfall. It’s that simple. I’ve had to stop reminding my friends in other places of this fact because they keep showing up to sample a little of the white stuff that falls in epic proportions around this part of the Cascades. But really, there’s enough for everyone. We can share. January 2012 was described as the snowiest January on record. I was gone that month. Every day I compared the snow report at Baker with my current location’s weather. Every day I saw snow. That’s the closest I’ll come to sharing.

AVALANCHE STABILITY. After traveling to colder, drier winter climates, I’ve discovered that there is a higher price to pay as a backcountry skier in other parts of the world. Avalanche conditions remain dangerous and potentially life threatening for a majority of the winter. Backcountry lines are skied in the spring. In the Cascades, we are blessed by a maritime snowpack, which allows for a little more room to play. There are risks with backcountry skiing, but the climate at Mt. Baker has the potential to allow for more predictable conditions.

MT. SHUKSAN. Call it a mountain crush, obsession, fatal attraction, or whatever, my relationship with Mt. Shuksan is fanatical. But I am not the only one. Shuksan is one of the most photographed mountains in the world. I’ve seen images of the object of my affection hanging in lodges in the Andes and the Canadian Rockies, reminding me of the place I call home. mtbaker.us.

WINCHESTER CABIN. For winter or summer excursions, Winchester cabin is the best access to peaks such as Larrabee and Goat Mountain in the North Cascades. I’ve spent quiet, springtime days in the forest service fire look-out cabin planning ski missions and balmy summer days pointing out the surrounding lines I’ve skied to my parents and friends. Regardless of the season, it’s a convenient local hut stocked with a stove, beds, maps and a sampling of reading about the natural history and adventures found in the area.

THE MOSS. I decided to move to Glacier my first time driving Highway 542. Never before had I seen trees draped in vibrant moss cloaks like what a traveler experiences on the way to Mt. Baker. One particular tree boasted a long, dangling streamer directly over the road that I looked at every day. Toward the end of the winter, as the moss began to lose a hint of its green, the streamer was gone. The next year inevitably brought back the tree hair adornments to the goliaths in the region. I’ve spent days with cameras and friends enjoying the mysticism of the moss. It’s one of the first things I appreciate upon my return.

MILANO’S RESTAURANT. A countless number of times after a long, grueling ski day I’ve sat at restaurants, pubs and cafes around the world dreaming of a huge steaming bowl of Milano’s salmon affumicato paired with a glass of red wine followed by the homemade apple pie à la mode. With a modest and comfortable atmosphere, the food speaks for itself, with no need for a grandiose or snooty approach to eating. It’s the kind of place where you can show up in your ski clothes or go on a romantic date for two. How casually you take your meal is up to you. milanosrestaurant.us.

GALBRAITH. Although travel has recently made skiing a commitment that lasts 10 months out of the year, there are some weeks during the early summer and late fall that lend themselves to free time in the area. When that happens, I am on my bike at Galbraith. Tacky dirt, maintained trails and quick rides that you can do from almost anywhere in town, biking at Galbraith is the next best thing to skiing. ridegalbraith.com.

BOULEVARD PARK. Sure, it may rain a lot in Washington. But on the days it doesn’t, the locals quickly forget about the precipitation. On those sunny days, I almost always try and make it to Boulevard Park, the strip of fun-loving activity and leisurely lounging between Fairhaven and Bellingham. Frisbees, jogging, dogs, volleyball, soccer, live music, lovers, friends and business meetings – it all goes down at Boulevard on a sun-drenched day.

AVELLINO. Whether it’s the cinnamon rolls, ginger aid or the friendly, hipster baristas, Avellino serves up an example of what a coffee shop should be. Cozy and bustling, Avellino is a good place to meet with friends or get buried in a month long backlog of emails you haven’t seen while on the road. Plus, it’s right next door to Mallard. espressoavellino.com.

MALLARD. Quite a few of the key ingredients for Mallard’s ice cream flavors come from local farms, such as the blueberries, raspberries, Marionberries, mint, basil and sea berries. I always try to steer away from the more common flavors made with these delectable fresh berries and get a little adventurous with a sample of lavender, coconut ice or chai ice cream. Maybe it’s a blessing I don’t live near Bellingham year-round. Ice cream could become one of my major food groups. mallardicecream.com.

VILLAGE BOOKS. On down days I’ll boogie to Fairhaven and spend hours searching the three floors of novels, coffeetable books, bestsellers, magazines and used titles that Village Books has to offer. It becomes an event, like going to the theatre or a music show, and can easily take an entire afternoon. villagebooks.com. X

Molly Baker is a professional skier and freelance writer based out of the snowy winter wonderland of Glacier.